In The Know: U.S. high school graduation rate reaches new high while Oklahoma rate declines

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

U.S. high school graduation rate reaches new high while Oklahoma rate declines: The U.S. high school graduation rate reached a record high of 83.2 percent last school year, rising from 79 percent four years earlier, the White House announced Monday. In Oklahoma, Tulsa Public Schools has been bucking a statewide trend of declining graduation rates. While the national rate has risen annually over the past several years, Oklahoma’s rate has dipped each year since the 2012-13 school year — the earliest year with state data available since all the states began using a consistent, four-year adjusted measure of high school completion, according to the White House release [Tulsa World].

One-time stipends approved for Oklahoma corrections workers: Thousands of Oklahoma corrections employees could be getting one-time stipends of nearly $1,800 as soon as next month. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections approved the payments at its monthly meeting Tuesday. The money will come from the $10-plus million the agency received in September after a state revenue failure earlier this year. Under the adopted plan, each employee who has been with the agency for at least six months will receive $1,750 [NewsOK].

Audit critical of Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel: A special investigative audit of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office found repeated examples of financial wrongdoing and actions taken without approval of county commissioners. State Auditor Gary Jones released the 32-page report Tuesday morning. The audit specifically criticizes Sheriff John Whetsel, saying his decision not to pay the jail’s medical bills for months in 2015 could cost county property owners $3.3 million [NewsOK].

Judges on the Ballot in Oklahoma: What you need to know: Oklahoma is one of 39 states where voters have a role in selecting judges. On November 8, Oklahoma voters will decide whether to retain two Supreme Court justices, two Court of Criminal Appeals judges and three Court of Civil Appeals judges. Judicial elections usually don’t attract as much publicity as other races, so we’re taking a look at how judges are chosen, what’s at stake in the elections, and how you can learn about the candidates [OK Policy].

Law Enforcement, Advocates Differ On How To Fix Oklahoma’s ‘Felon Factory’: Oklahoma’s prisons are crowded, and the state continues to incarcerate offenders at the second- highest rate in the nation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Two state questions on the November 8 ballot aim to ease both of those strains. Carla Quillen started using drugs when she was 17. Before she knew it, she was addicted and selling crack cocaine to support her habit [KGOU]. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ 780 and SQ 781 here.

Health benefits for state workers face rising costs, uncertainty: As health care costs continue to rise, lawmakers admitted Tuesday they’re considering an overhaul of the state’s insurance benefits for employees. “There are heated arguments going on, on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, during a study committee hearing at the Capitol. David said lawmakers are wrestling with “whether the state should be in the insurance business” by continuing to manage its own health care benefits for employees [Enid News & Eagle].

Oklahoma Waiting for Guidance on Workers’ Comp Opt Out Transition: There seems to be more questions than answers as to what happens next in the wake of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s finding that the opt out portion of the state’s 2013 comprehensive workers’ compensation legislative overhaul is unconstitutional. That’s because the Court has yet to publish its mandate on the Sept. 13 ruling — the document that will outline the steps companies that developed their own employee injury benefit plans must take to become compliant with Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation statutes [Insurance Journal].

States Feel Pressure to Comply With Real ID as Stiff Consequences Loom on Horizon: A looming federal mandate continues to put states on edge and threatens to further complicate air travel in the United States. The so-called Real ID Act was passed in 2005 as part of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for more consistent identification standards, but implementation of the stricter rules — which includes incorporating anti-counterfeit technology into the card — has been anything but straightforward [GovTech]. Oklahoma’s request for an extension on the Real ID requirements was denied last week [KFOR].

Annual KIDS COUNT Conference slated for Nov. 2-3: The Oklahoma KIDS COUNT Conference – featuring a Harvard University researcher, keynote speakers focusing on equity and disparity concerns, alumni of Oklahoma’s foster care system, early childhood, high-risk families, mental health and substance abuse, plus lively panels – will be held early next month. The annual event is slated Nov. 2-3 at the Nigh Center on the Edmond campus of the University of Central Oklahoma [Chickasha News].

Quote of the Day

“We are running a felon factory in Oklahoma that, in generations to come, will exacerbate the problem we already have.”

-Gene Rainbolt, chairman of BancFirst Corp., on his support for SQ 780 and SQ 781, which aim to reduce the prison population and invest in mental health and substance abuse treatment (Source). See OK Policy’s fact sheet on the justice reform state ballot questions here.

Number of the Day


Number of judges that Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not to retain in office in this year’s November election.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Striking new research on inequality: ‘Whatever you thought, it’s worse’: Social mobility, the amount that a typical American moves up or down the economic ladder from where their parents and grandparents stood, has became a major focus of political discussion, academic research and popular outrage in the years since the global financial crisis. While Americans have traditionally seen their country as a place where anyone can make through hard work and a stroke of luck, data collected in the past decade have shown otherwise. Compared with many European countries, for example, few Americans end up with an income or educational level that is substantially different than their parents. Research by economists from Harvard and Berkeley found that fewer than 10 percent of people in the bottom fifth of the wealth distribution will make it into the top fifth [Washington Post].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

One thought on “In The Know: U.S. high school graduation rate reaches new high while Oklahoma rate declines

  1. We need to thank the OK County DA for demonstrating why prosecutors have nothing of value to add to any serious criminal justice reform efforts in OK.

    Let’s start with his ““If there’s not a lengthy prison sentence hanging over my head as some incentive to go to drug court or some incentive to change my lifestyle and address my addictive behavior, then I’m not going to do it.” Nothing he considers regarding effective policy deals with what potential offenders actually think or do, just what he, as a privileged member of the community, would or wouldn’t do given particular sanctions. In fairness, this is a fundamental problem of virtually all reform thought [sic], never actually consulting the people for whom the policies are meant, such as former offenders who have not recidivated to get their views of what might “change my lifestyle and address my addictive behavior.” It’s just good that addictive “cutting” is not (yet) illegal so that the OK County DA could recommend policy on what would make him stop.

    Now let’s consider the whole “lengthy sentence” thing. It’s fair to say that neither the OK County DA nor any of his colleagues have actually empirically examined what sentences are best associated with lower recidivism and actual offending desistance. That would be research and research is apparently hard for DAs. Unfortunately for them, research HAS been done on the impact of lengthy sentences, and that research makes clear that long sentences rarely have better impact on later recidivism than short ones. But, should the offender not have that ineffective longer sentence “hanging over” him or her, she or he will not take the law seriously, although research on programs such as the HOPE program in Hawaii would also show the DA wrong on that. In truth, the DAs refuse to accept the “more certainty, less severity” of punishment findings of that research because longer sentences are the WD-40 of what they do, tools that make their jobs easier and quicker, not communities safer and better.

    Then we get another favored DA bromide, that offenders to be rehabbed are not first-timers. Actually, whether or not someone has a prior record and what that prior record is, is very much a result of decisions made in the crim just system by police and, wait for it, DAs. Let’s leave aside the issue of whether drugs should be illegal. One incident with the system involving drugs can get you one or many counts, depending on the officers and/or prosecutors, and having that first count can make you the object of many more later even if you don’t go to prison on the first one. And think of the crimes actually harmful to others that add up while the police and prosecutors are adding to their collection of counts and offenders for drugs. OK’s record of violent and property crime reduction is nowhere near the record of many similar states over the last two decades, states that have adopted much more serious reforms, like those NC adopted back in the 1990s just like the ones OK almost did then but resisted due to the DAs using the same tired arguments that the OK County DA does in this article. NC has seen a crime drop even greater than the US overall average. OK hasn’t even seen the US average. Scarce resources, growing scarcer, but let’s keep dropping ineffective longer sentences or the threat of them on people who need public health services, not OK County DAs.

    A couple of points, however, that he gets right. Did you notice that he basically called out the state drug court effort for ineffectiveness? Only about half of those who start OK drug courts complete them, compared to lower recidivism rates for drug offenders just getting probation, as a DOC study there found years ago. However, also note that a major reason for drug court failure in the state, according to that “never to be spoken of” audit of the state DOC in the mid-00s that showed Justin Jones and his people to be so effective with the few resources that they were given that phonied-up charges had to be made to get rid of him so that private prisons could make the gains they have subsequently made under the current DOC director, is the almost total control of who gets into drug courts by the, wait for it, state DAs.

    The OK County DA is right (!!) to be skeptical that promised funds saved by the reformes will actually make it to described targets. Indiana is currently getting hammered for its failure to do so with similar reforms a few years ago, and there’s no reason to believe either the OK legislature or governor will be committed to it. So expect, despite all the evidence otherwise of their failure and ignorance, the OK DAs to be parading around claiming their intelligence in a couple of years (would have said “prescience” but none of them know that word) and using the lack of funding to kill any follow-up efforts at reform that would actually have meaningful impacts. If Speaker Steele were still Speaker, that might be different. But . . . if Speaker Steele were governor . . . hmmmmmmm . . . . Mr. Bennett? Mr. Rainboldt?

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